Our Pick for 8th Grade Engineering is The Way Things Work

Our guide will help you use The Way Things Work as the perfect preparation for high school engineering.

We are not sponsored by the publishers of The Way Things Work or otherwise affiliated with them.

The Perfect Preparation for High School

Students who have followed our curriculum up to 8th grade will have learned a huge amount of information about a wide range of engineering topics, including aerospace engineering, civil engineering, and manufacturing engineering. This is a great time for students to revisit some of these concepts from another perspective, and The Way Things Work is a fantastic book for accomplishing this.

The Way Things Work by David Macaulay is a beautifully illustrated survey of the inventions that surround us and make our lives easier. It covers covers hundreds of inventions and engineering concepts, including:

  • Printing Presses
  • Helicopters
  • Blast Furnaces
  • Electric Generators
  • Batteries
  • Lasers
  • Telephone Networks
  • Musical Instruments
  • Microscopes
  • Fusion Reactors
  • Computer Memory
  • Digital Thermometers
  • Sonar
  • … and much more

Complex, but Accessible

Each invention is explained over the span of 1-2 pages and is accompanied by evocative, highly stylized diagrams. The diagrams often include humorous elements and may appear childish, but The Way Things Work represents a genuine attempt to help children understand complex concepts at a level of depth that most adults would find intimidating. For example, when explaining how radios work, the book explains nuanced ideas like carrier signals, analog modulation, and the difference between AM and FM signals.

Because of the complexity of the material, the child-friendly illustrations on each page are essential to helping readers remain invested. Regardless of each topic’s difficulty, readers will be drawn in by the artistry; it’s always a joy to turn the page and see something new. Traditional textbooks simply can’t match the inviting presentation style of The Way Things Work.

Getting the Correct Version

The Way Things Work was first published in 1988, and has gone through multiple revisions that incorporate newer inventions. The publication history is:

  • The Way Things Work, which was published in 1988
  • The New Way Things Work, which was published in 1998
  • The Way Things Work Now, which was published in 2016
  • The Way Things Work: Newly Revised Edition, which was published in 2023.

If possible, we suggest getting the latest version, but it’s also okay to use the 2016 edition. The book is currently available for $19.82 on Amazon.

Using The Way Things Work

All your child needs to do for this grade level is read The Way Things Work. It’s fine to read it little-by-little over the course of a few months, but it’s also completely reasonable to binge it in a few days. As always, we suggest that as long as your child is being productive and making progress with some sort of schoolwork, it’s best not to interrupt.

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